Reflecting on Success:

the Story of Madrid Metro

Megaprojects are notoriously difficult to get right. Research from the University of Oxford estimates that only 2.8% of megaprojects are on budget and on time. With such staggering figures, it is hardly surprising that a great deal of reporting on megaprojects becomes weighed down in understanding how projects go so wrong.

Today, we want to focus on a project that got it right. The world-renowned Madrid Metro tunnels beneath the historical European city, connecting 657.2 million passengers annually. How did project teams manage to complete the 14th longest rapid transit system in the world on time and on budget?

A Proud History

Sometimes referred to as “Madrid’s most overlooked asset”, the Madrid Metro was inaugurated by Spain’s King Alfonso XIII in October 1919, when services began with Line 1 which connected Sol and Cuatro Caminos. Today, the length of the system is a staggering 293 km, which serves to connect 302 stations across 13 lines.

Amongst other accolades, Madrid’s Metro ranks fifth in the world in terms of number of stations, as well as being the longest Metro system in Continental Europe (second only to London’s famous 402km underground network).

Construction Success

The success of Madrid Metro’s various phases of construction has been astonishing. In particular, two key phases of development (1999-2003 and 2003-2007) demonstrated both the ambition of Madrid’s leadership as well as the strength of project teams. While Phase One extended Line 10 and created Line 12, Phase Two saw 10 extensions to the system, as well as the integration of three brand-new tram lines.

The key role played by the Metro President, Manuel Melis, in this success story is worth highlighting. When Mr Melis reflected on the success of Phase One growth, he stated that “we completed everything on time and within budget. In fact, we could have finished six months earlier because we were too conservative in our planning. Tunnel construction went faster than we expected.” Indeed, the entire cost of Phase One amounted to €3.16 billion, including “planning, civil works, electrical and mechanical installations, interchanges, maintenance facilities, and rolling stock”. This is quite the feat within a 4-year time frame.

In terms of Phase Two, Madrid Metro’s spokesperson, Sonia Aparicio, argues that this was the “most dynamic period of growth” in the Metro’s history. Within that period, 80km of track was laid, making it possible to build 90 new stations in the same period. As if this were not a significant standalone achievement within such a short time frame, journeys were also made more comfortable and accessible for passengers. For comparison, following Phase Two, Madrid Metro had a total of 529 lifts for disabled access, whereas the London Underground had 184 (all the while, the London Underground serves a population three times that of Madrid’s). 

It Keeps Getting Better

The historical success of the Madrid Metro is not something of the past. In fact, because of its past success, project teams have had ample room for continuous innovation. For example, between 2016-2020, Madrid’s regional government invested €145.7 million in an Accessibility Plan. The plan has added 89 lifts in 33 stations, which will increase the percentage of accessible stations by 10%, making 73% of all stations fully accessible for disabled passengers.

Beyond this impressive plan, the system has been designed and consistently improved to provide the maximum amount of comfort for passengers throughout the year. The Metro’s intelligent design allows it to remain cool throughout the Spanish summer when temperatures reach up to 37°C. Engineers of the Metro ensured that “most stations have high concrete ceilings, vents placed above the tracks, and fluorescent lighting”. Additionally, station ceilings reinforced by concrete slabs added a layer of insulation that prevents major changes in temperature. When contrasted with underground systems in cities like Los Angeles and Dallas, Texas (which were built after the Madrid Metro), where serious concerns have been raised as to whether the systems can withstand high heat levels, the success of Madrid Metro’s engineering team is evident.

Overall, the success of the Madrid Metro feels like a breath of fresh air in the world of megaprojects. At Foresight Works, we are excited to share these success stories and are passionate about the potential of our AI technology to make its success repeatable for projects around the world.

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Madeleine Jones Casey

Madeleine Jones-Casey

Business Writer at Foresight Works

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